Monday, May 17, 2021

Reminiscences of my neighbors

 Part 1

My neighbours
Came to Kolkatta in the early 60s.
We stayed in a typical Bengali home with a huge courtyard around which was the toilet, kitchen and three huge rooms.
The sitting room was a marble floored massive room.
There was a Tamil tenant on the first floor with two boys.
The landlady's son occupied a part of the second floor.
On the third floor were the landlady and her two daughters. Her two other married daughters were at their husband's homes.
My sister and I called the two sisters Bada didi and Chota didi.
Both of us adored Bada didi.
She was very affectionate and friendly.
She was the chef of the house.
There were two more brothers also.
Loved the way she used to cook.
It was the tradition cooking range on the huge corridor.
Daily she ground red chilli and turmuric on a stone grinder for using in the dishes.
Her art of making rotis too was different.
She rolled out thin rotis put it on tawa, when one side got roasted, she put another roti and this went on till all the rotis rolled were completed.
Then she would take the rotis one by one, toss them on the fire till they fluffed up.
When all rotis were done, she would pour some water on the hot tawa and painstlkingly dip each roti and spread them to dry.
This method (though I never tried) really yielded soft rotis.
Occasionally she arranged a get to gether where my sis and I too used to participate on the huge terrace. She used to prepare the traditional Bengali food and of course, the Bong desserts were a must.
She had reared some ducks and used to give us eggs.
I hated duck eggs as they were quite smelly but my mother used to make masala omlette which was delicious.
One of the brothers small daughter used to be a regular in our house. She loved the idli dosa my amma prepared. Remember her a familiar sight till we shifted to another house.
The first floor neighbor too was very friendly.
Her sons and my siblings and I were very friendly and indulged ourselves in a lot of games.
The present gen surely miss those days when children used to be active and not glued to TV, laptop and mobile.

Part 11

My neighbours 11
From Kansaripara, we shifted to another house close by. My mom had just given birth to my little brother.
I was 12 years old.
The task of taking care of our new born brother was with my 11 year old sister and me.
It was fun and we thoroughly enjoyed the task given.
It was a beautiful house but the landlady and Lord proved otherwise. Very negative minded, picking up quarels for each and everything.
The landlords brother who stayed in a one room apartment there was hardly seen.
But his door was kept open. My sis and I used to sneak in and ransack his neatly piled book shelves.
There were fairy tales from differen lands and really kept us hooked. MY sis was a bookworm, the habit passed on to her daughter and Pravin. I always kept away but loved reading Romance fictions.
The one we liked was The Arabian Nights.
But even if the brother noticed us, he did not grumble. A contrast to his elder brother. There was the second floor where a Telugu and another flat where a Bengali family lived.
My sis and I befriended everyone and even used to take our wee brother to their houses. In the flat were a Bengali sister and her brother. The sister though tall and stout was very pretty.
The brother looked like a Greek hero and my sis and I truly admired him.
Then one day we noticed that a very pretty punjabi girl who stayed across the road and he were having an affair. They did make a hansome pair.
The locals loved my father and respected him a lot.
They too hated the landlord.
Once things got so bad that the locals had to intervene and save my father.
Not even into one year, we shifted house again. This flat too was very close by . The tenants staying had moved to the second floor. As they knew my father, they had informed him.
We shifted to our new house which was the final shifting till my father retired and was made manager and caretaken of two twin buildings in New Alipore.
My B.ed college, Hastings House was just across the road and my father's ambition to see me as a teacher bore fruit as I got admission in the year 1980, cleard it in 1981 and immediately got a teacher's job after passing out from my B.Ed institution thanks to Venu's Times of Indis manager whose wife was the principal of the school.
At Nilkuti where we shifted, the society was full of South Indians and more Punjabis.
My building was full of punjabis expect for the friend who shifted to the second floor. He and his wife were Tamilans.
All the south Indians in and around the neighborhood became good friends of my mother, so my sister and I used to tag along with her when she went to visit them.

Part 111

Forgot to mention my friends opposite my house in Kansaripara.
My sister and I used to be friendly with a Punjabi Sikh and a Gujrati family.
The Punjabi and Gujrati girls were our age and so we had a lot of things to discuss.
There was a Bengali family too. But the huge Alsatian pet made me avoid going to their house.
Relished a lot of traditional Pungabi and Gujrati cuisine at their homes.
Used to go to college with my Punjabi friend. Also, used to go to a nearby Gurudwawara not for any religious purpose but to eat the wheat halwa given as prasad. Really loved it and still love it.
At the third house we shifted, our immediate neighbours were Sardar families.
Once my mom had gone to ask for something being new to the place and the lady had shutthe door rudely.
Then our phone caame, and the attitude of the lady changed.
Our phone was used more by her and not us. So gradually our friendship started.
Then we got our fridge and inside were more of their items than ours.
One day when I was having my afternoon nap, igot up to answer the door bell.
The Pujabi lady stood there asking for the dought that was in the fridge.
The elder brother had returned from work and she wanted to make rotis for her husband.
I gave it to her. She made the rotis and immediaately returned it to be kept back in fridge.
Just as I was resuming my nap, again I had to go to anser the doorbell. It was the lady again asking for the dough.
I was seething with annoyance but gave the vessel to her without saying a word.
It was soon returned.
Third time the doorbell rang, I sprang up in anger, opened the door to see the maid asking for dough. I gave her a piece of my mind.
Seeing that the lady was quite upset but could not give up friendship as our family was very useful.
There was this beautiful Waheeda rehman look alike, the wife of the cousin brother of my landlord.
She was proud and haughty.
In fact the whole society belonged to the cousins.
Thre was another cousin, always shabbily dressed, covering himself in a torn dirty blanket, beard grown amd looked like not having bathed for many years. It was a failed love affair. used to see him staand at the gate anf glowering at all the ladies entering the society. Used to be really frightened when I saw him standing at the gate and glowering at me and my sis whenever we entered or went out of gate.
The only time Waheeda rehman look alike visited was when I had Pravin. She was completely taken in by the chubby fair baby.
I had visited Kolkatta in 1988. Saw this lady standing on the balcony. She rushed down enquiring after Pravin.
When my wedding was fixed, Venu used to come home most of the days on his Java bike which did not have any silencer. As soon as the bike neared the gater and came thundering in, all the Bong neighbours used to rush to the balcony saying Jamai ashche.
Meaning the groom is coming.
Then it was my husband's home in Sree Mohan Lane.
Before long I had made good friends with the neighbours.
There was a family from Assam, and most were Bengalis.
Our first floor neighbor was a Tamil lady ho proved to be a mother figure to Venu and me. She knew more about Venu as she knew him from his bachelor days and used to narrate hilarious incidents.
The bengali neighbours consisiting of the parents and 2 brothers were a true blessing for Venu and me.
They took great care of Pravin especially the younger son. He was truly Pravin's Godfather. The elder brother got married.
A very homely girl who soon became my friend.
In between the bengali family house and our bedroom window was the kitchen where Bengali sweets were prepared. The shop was outside our society.
The cook always made sure to give some freshly made panneer to Pravin.
The other neighbor was a health worker. A very kind and good lady. Praviin's measles vaccination was given by her in her house.
Mami as Venu and used to call the Tamil lady Hema Mami, was my confidante.
A true mother figure.
She used to serve me lunch everyday when I was studying for my MA. She told me not to waste time on cooking but concentrate on my studies.
Sadly she passed away from kidney ailment.

Part 1V

Coming back to Nilkuti, the society where our flat was in my third house in Kolkatta.
As said my neighbors were Punjabis from Amritsar.
It was from Baljit the Badi Bahu from whom I learned to make perfect rotis. I used to follow her instructions to make tomato puree and preserve in bottles. I even learnt how to make Makki Da roti. It was rolled out in a different way, not on the rolling board but with hands.
A bit of dough was made into a ball pressed well with palms and then placed on the kitchen counter and vigoroughly rotated by hands.
Though I had learned knitting and embroidery at school, it was from Baljit that I learnt to knit well and learnt lots of beautiful designs.
When a sweater got worn out or became small,
the ladies used to unwind the whole sweater and then wash the wool and dry it before making balls and ready for the next knit.
I tried once but gave up. It was a tedious job.
It was during Shrimati Indira Gandhi's assassination that the elder daughter's wedding was fixed for the next month.
Since it was Punjabi colony, there was great fear. Baljit brought everything including gold and kept it for safety in our house.
A security vehicle came and whisked all the Sardarjs and famililies away to safety.
It was utter chaos inside society.
Fortunately wedding went off well amidst tight security.

Hema mami's sons used to call Pravin Siren because of his loud scream and Venu was called Mohan Bagan as he was a great supporter of Mohan Bagan Football Team.
Meanwhile Venu resigned from Times Of India and went with a friend to Dubai. He was on continuous tour of UAE and other African countries.
Since he wanted his wife and son to be secure in one place, he bought a flat in Shanthi Colony, Annanagar, Chennai. All of Venu's relatives were in Chennai.
We shifted to Chennai on Jan 26, 1986.
Since Venu was away in Dubai, my Mom came to be with me and Pravin in Chennai.
It was a two storied HIG flat.
In the two flats on the ground floor were Christian families.
First floor consisted of a Malayali family and facing the flat was a telugu family.
Second floor was truly national integrated family.
The flat was occupied by a Malayali Christian family.
Mother with seven children, five daughters and two sons.
The flat belonged to the eldest daughter and she was a mother figure to her siblings.
Though the flat was hers, she was away at Mali where she had a hosiery business with her Mudaliar husband.
The second sister was an announcer at Central Railways,
The third sister was staying separately with her husband.
The fourth sister was married to a Muslim and he was staying with them.
The fourth sisiter very soon got married to a Malayali Kurup.
It was a very united family.
I was soon to get really friendly with the second sister and fourth sister since they were staying opposite my flat.
I was happy I had very helpful and kind neighbous.
Pravin got very friendly with the Telugu neighbor's son. They got along like a house on fire.
It was the helpful boy who taught me the basics of computer.
Then it was exchanging of food. Got a lot of traditional Christian and Andhra food.
Coming to the second floor Malayali neighbour. There were two pretty sisters.
They were very friendly.
Then to my surprise the mother happed to be the sister of my relative's wife from Chittur.
My relative too was very happy to see me and amma when he came to visit his wife's sister.
The ground floor Christian family consisted of the father, mother and three daughters.
Two daughters moved away after getting married.
The third daughter though married and with children stayed with the parents as her husband was working abroad.
It was their German Shepard dog that took a liking to me and went out of its way to show its pleasure when it saw me on my balcony.
Coming to the Christian family head, he was very protective towards me which was rather quite irritating.
Venu used to come to Chennai sometimes in three months.
One day he had come before a month.
It was night and Venu and I were going out. Mr Cherian noticed it.
Next day as Venu and I sat on the balcony having our morning tea, someone knocked at the door.
I opened to find Mr. Cherian at the door step.
He gave a startled look when he saw Venu.
He said he had come to enquire with whom I had gone the previous night. He did not know Venu was back so soon.
Venu told him not to worry since Anu was with her husband only.
When Venu was away and I used to go out with Pravin, Mr. Cherian who was always at his gate, will make this hand into a fist and ask in Malayalam 'Evadeya pone?' meaning where are you going?

 Gupta, Jyoti Lokes

No comments: